MIAMI – The Florida Panthers will have a new face behind their bench next season – one that might be pegged by their former coach.
The Panthers announced Friday that Jacques Martin would not return as Florida’s coach next season, but has been offered the chance to retain his role as the team’s general manager.
Martin has held both roles since the 2006-07 season, and is expected to make his decision in the coming week.
“Over the past few days both Jacques and I have spent significant time together discussing what is in the best interest of this franchise,” team owner Alan Cohen said in a statement. “It is now up to Jacques to decide if he wants to remain with the club as our general manager, where he would continue to play a vital role in helping to ensure the future success of our organization.”
Cohen and Martin did not return phone messages left Friday afternoon.
Cohen and assistant GM Randy Sexton did not immediately return e-mails from The Associated Press.
The move was first reported by The Miami Herald.
Florida went 38-35-9 to finish with 85 points, nine behind Southeast Division champion Washington. The Panthers haven’t won a playoff series since 1996 and a playoff game since 1997. They haven’t reached the post-season since 2000.
Martin went 110-100-36 as Florida’s coach. He was one of three coach/general managers in the NHL. The other two, Ottawa’s Bryan Murray and Atlanta’s Don Waddell, are also expected to relinquish one role this off-season.
Both Murray and Waddell were general managers first, then took over behind the bench when their coaches were fired.
Martin spent 8 1/2 years in Ottawa until he was fired April 2004. He was the NHL’s longest-serving coach at the time. He landed his first NHL head coaching job with the St. Louis Blues in 1986.
After one season as the Panthers coach, he became the general manager when Mike Keenan quit shortly after trading star goaltender Roberto Luongo to Vancouver. Martin filled that hole last off-season by acquiring all-star Tomas Vokoun from Nashville, but has been criticized for not adding a topflight scorer.
With pressure from ownership to make the playoffs, the Panthers started this season slowly, with five losses in their first eight games, and kept playing erratically. Then Florida lost forward Richard Zednik when captain Olli Jokinen accidentally slashed his neck with his skate during a Feb. 10 game. Zednik recovered, but the team spiralled.
The Panthers blew three consecutive contests in the final period in February and closed out the month with six losses in seven games. Jokinen, Florida’s all-time scoring leader, had only five goals in the 22 games that remained after the accident.
The team rallied in March for the third consecutive season, going 8-3-1, but again that wasn’t enough.
Although both parties publicly denied a riff, there were questions of Martin’s relationship with Jokinen throughout the season. Jokinen’s agent did not immediately return a phone message Friday.